I’m particular about my mugs i.e. vessels for my lifelong (no plans to ever-give-it-up) coffee habit. Dainty or fine just doesn’t work for me. It needs to be hefty, something I can grip with my hands in the morning as I wait for the coffee to make me human again. I like a lot of coffee, so it can’t be too small, but I hate cold coffee so it can’t be gargantuan either. Thus you can imagine my fascination with watching a lively young woman at her potter’s wheel transform a hunk of clay into a fine mug. Let’s say I was impressed. ‘This woman get’s me’ I thought.
The clay, a medium no-nothing red, went from lifeless to being formed into a mug, that in my opinion, was just right. Sarah Wolf, the potter behind Wolf Ceramics shared, “People are very particular about their mugs. They care whether it is light or heavy, small handle or big handle, tiny or large. I love that.” The mug is how I discovered Sarah Wolf. I’d seen something about a mug club and thought it was a very clever idea. Four times a year those in the mug club are invited to a happy hour where they collect the newest of the young potter’s creations. The club is sold out for now and Sarah shares the mug club is how she paid her tuition for her graduate art program. “Mugs may be the most cliché thing ever, but I really love them. I get a lot of satisfaction out of making them. I like hearing back from people that they use the mug everyday, that it brightens their day. I feel like it is an object that people have strong opinions about, it is a very intimate object. I love the mug,” Sarah shared.
“Mugs may be the most cliché thing ever, but I really love them. I get a lot of satisfaction out of making them.”
DREAMING BIG AND SMALL
The program Sarah is completing at the Oregon College of Art and Craft is a step along the path that Sarah has chosen that will lead to her running her own studio full time. “The idea of having a larger productive business—and by larger I still mean small and local—is really exciting! I am inclined to take those steps as baby steps. If in a year after I have the space open I can hire someone to help and build from there, well that would be awesome,” Sarah said this with the same enthusiasm that she showed at the wheel.
Sarah’s plan after she graduates and spends some time doing a residency, is to use the grant that she will get through Mercy Corp’s small business program to open a studio where she will create beautiful but functional things. She is crafting her plan to be self-employed with gusto, and is as much a young entrepreneur as she is an artisan. “I love the idea of having my own schedule and being in charge of my own work,” Sarah said.
Sarah’s heart is both in running her own business and in ceramics. The climber who is most at home in the mountains shared that this about her love for ceramics, “I love working with my hands. I just get a lot of satisfaction from creating things and creating things that are functional. Things that will be used. I love creating things that are beautiful. Ceramics in particular is an incredibly diverse process. It is dirty and physical, but it is also delicate and there are so many different parts to the process. It is challenging in a lot of different ways.”
NO REGRETS: EARLY LIFE CRISIS
Sarah grew up with both creative outlets and a love for math and science. Her mother is an artist and teacher and fostered a creative environment with equal time for crafting and schoolwork. “My mother is a painter. I lived in an old house in Northwest Portland and there was an attic that was her studio. She used to let me draw on her floor. I have always been into crafting in my life. I liked building things, making things with Popsicle sticks. Ceramics I was introduced to in the third grade but did not really get into until college,” the artist shared.
Sarah has many loves in her life, and after studying Geo-Chemistry in college spent time in San Juan where she realized that she loved the outdoors and being a researcher wasn’t quite for her. “I was farming on the San Juan Islands. I lived on a homestead there. I think that was in the same vein as wanting to do something that was functional and useful. I was growing food and eating it,” Sarah recalls of her time gardening and farming. Knowing she loved creating and building things, she decided to pursue architecture and worked in construction as part of a design firm while she completed a summer Architecture program at the University of Oregon.
Sometimes in life, we may not be sure of our path or direction and discover it only because we realize the things that we don’t want to do. These moments are not without fear, but can also be entirely liberating, as is the case with the creator of Wolf Ceramics. Laughing and twisting her silver ring, she tells us how her “young life crisis” led her to pursue ceramics. “I was gearing up to go to architecture school and was feeling this really sinking feeling like ‘ohhhh no’, and I thought ‘do I want to do this. Do I want to sit in front of a computer and pay off loans?’ I hit a tipping point and made the decision to start looking at art programs.”
Sarah shares that she has no regrets, and lights up with a smile when asked how it felt when she made the decision to take a path as an artisan and entrepreneur. “It was like I know this is terrifying. It isn’t as though this is the kind of thing where after there will be jobs that will give me a salary. I felt like though, I am going to be ok. And it was a relief.” Returning to Portland, Sarah found a supportive community at Radius, where she works part-time, and with friends and family. Her housemate, also a maker, has a positive make-it-happen attitude that Sarah loves being around. Seeing others make it as self-employed artisans inspires and encourages her and she has no regrets about her decision.
I LOVE THE MUG: INSPIRATION BEYOND PINTEREST
Sarah loves creating and has explored different avenues including a very small but long lived jewelry business. She found though that she “kept coming back to ceramics,” because it was the combination of creating something that is both artistic and has a purpose in our daily lives. “There have been many times that I have considered doing more sculpture and thinking ‘maybe that is my thing.’ It is the endless art versus craft conversation that is always popping back up. And I have really discovered, especially at OCAC, that I want to make things that people use. I don’t want to make something that will end up in someone’s basement. I also like the production. I get a lot of satisfaction from making things in quantity. I like the idea of making a lot of something that is going to be used and loved.”
There is a unifying understated aesthetic to Wolf Ceramics that Sarah calls “simple” and that is grounded in her use of shape and color. She is inspired by the city of Portland, which she feels is “really entrepreneurial.” Sarah’s love of texture is apparent in her pieces and she shares, “I love patterns. I love textiles. Those two things for sure give me inspiration.” And something about the pieces brings forth the outdoors, perhaps it is the rustic element and simplicity of the pieces. Perhaps it is also from Sarah’s time climbing and leading excursions through the mountains that has certainly informed her work.
“It was a matter of changing my attitude. To say it is possible to make a different path work. It was so liberating to take that risk and let go.”
Sarah was a bit reluctant to share advice as she is at the beginning of her journey. However, she made the choice to start an online ceramics business to support her newfound path, and that takes courage. Besides, we never ‘arrive’ we simply continue to grow as we make our way through life.
Sarah thoughtfully shared, “It was a matter of changing my attitude. To say it is possible to make a different path work. It was so liberating to take that risk and let go. At first I was riddled with worries, ‘like what if I don’t make enough money, or what if my car breaks down,’ I had to have the courage to let go of my worries and give it a shot. Once that first step was taken it became easier, you just need to take the dive.” Whatever path we are on, wherever we may be on our journey, Sarah’s advice is a welcome reminder that sometimes jumping right in can be extraordinary.